Broken Biscuits is the story of two best friends and mothers whose inseparable sons went to war together; but only one returned. Get ready for an emotional ride, and one of the theatrical surprises of this year – this low-key dark horse is one of the finest new dramas I’ve seen in a long time.
Lost in grief, Rita (Leanne Martin, pictured) has locked herself away and refused to speak to Maggie (Gillian Hardie) for six months; but her old friend won’t give up easily and makes one final attempt to get through to her, en route to a house party in their street. Rita won’t let her through the front door, so she camps outside. Slowly, she starts to break through; but it is clear nothing can ever be the same.
To demonstrate this, the set is little more than two doors, facing the audience – Maggie outside the front of the house, and Rita sat against what is effectively the other side, losing herself in a bottle of whisky.
Tricia Duffy’s script bursts with all the warmth and community spirit of a good episode of Corrie and the drama, pathos and emotional punch of the best Jimmy McGovern (remember his episode of The Accused with Ann-Marie Duff and Olivia Colman, and you’re somewhere close); and it’s this balance of light and dark that makes Broken Biscuits so compelling. Leanne Martin’s portrayal of the isolated, heartbroken single mum Rita is truly heartbreaking; but as Maggie makes her best efforts to chip away at her hard, damaged exterior and recall the old days, there are plenty of genuine laughs too, playing to Gillian Hardie’s comedic strengths (she can usually be found being one half of musical theatre comedy double act, Caz and Britney). Their relationship is so convincing it leaves the audience rooting for that resolution.
Ultimately though, with Maggie repeatedly distracted by the vibrance and life in the outside world on her side of the door – the lure of the party and the disco that the audience can hear throughout, the occasional interruption from obliviously obnoxious teenage neighbour Molly (Louise Garcia), and, as Rita won’t let her forget, her surviving son and loving family – the contrast between the old friends, with Rita trapped and alone inside, may have finally become too wide.
Thanks to the intimate space of the Lantern, it’s a kitchen sink drama with the audience almost literally sat at the table; the effects are deeply moving. It’s a debut play from Duffy, and it’s a real gem. Beautifully written and performed, with a strong, yet subtle directorial hand from the Lantern’s own Margaret Connell, it is a striking tale of womens’ lives that, without being preachy or overly sentimental, truly has you leaving the theatre counting your blessings in life (and probably pretending you’ve just got something in your eye).
Broken Biscuits returns to the Lantern on October 17 and 18 and really should not be missed.